Monday, April 28, 2014


I got up and went for a run on Monday morning.  All the roadside shrines had been dismantled, but I could see the remains of designs that people had made with colored sand, corn meal and flower petals.  It was very subdued out there after the frenzy of Semana Santa.  The hotel was deserted.  They took advantage of the slow period to replace the roof of the kitchen and clean all the grease out of the ventilation system.  They set up a temporary kitchen in part of the bar.  No one was ordering food, anyway.

Cayuco on the Rio Lempa
After my shower and a brief period spent on the internet, Venus, Patrick (a Frenchman single handing a catamaran), and I set off for La Herradura in Venus’ little boat.  It took us an hour to motor up the river.  We came to the point in the river where it split around and island and, instead of taking the left fork to go to the Paradise Marina or Lynn and Lou’s, we went to the right.  We worked our way through a series of channels between islands, tending generally to the right, until the roof of a large palapa emerged from the mangroves.  We tied our boat up to the seawall at that restaurant and climbed up onto the shore via a tire hung on the side of the wall for that purpose.  We were met by a young man whose job is to watch people’s dinghies while they go into town.  He charged $1 for this service.

La Herradura
Patrick needed to go to the ATM, so we headed up the main street towards the bank and the grocery store.  La Herradura is a rough and unattractive place, rumored to be dangerous for tourists.  We saw some young toughs, but no one bothered us.  Patrick couldn’t get any money out of the ATM, probably because they had set the limit rather low.  I got $100 with no problem. I didn’t really need money, but wanted some small bills because all I had was hundreds.

The grocery store was across the street from the bank, a few blocks up the road from the estuary.  It was a small supermarket.  We had all come in search of fresh vegetables, but there weren’t many offered.  I got a couple of small heads of not too limp iceberg lettuce, a bag of onions and a few tomatoes.  The most attractive things there were the grapes, so I bought a small bunch of those, even though Scott didn’t like them.  I did manage to get some disposable razors and napkins and some very nice small bags of sauces that were perfect for seasoning the one pound lumps of meat I had bought from Emely up the road.  The sauces cost 35 cents per envelope.  It was all I could do to spend $14 at that grocery store, since we didn’t need meat or alcohol.  They were kind enough to change my $100 bill, however, so I left with a good supply of small bills.  None of us bought much.

Pangas in La Herradura
We headed back down the road towards the restaurant on the water’s edge.  There were a bakery, a phone store, a few eateries and a couple of small grocery/liquor stores.  A small inlet held the local pangas and there were more stored on shore.  La Herradura did not give off a happy vibe.  The restaurant where we had left the boat was nice, though.  It was a big place with a two story high roof.  We stopped there and had cold sodas before hopping off the wall into someone’s panga and then climbing across to Venus’s boat.  The tide had turned in our favor, but the wind was now against us.  We had to hang onto the beach umbrella on the way back.  We saw lots of men fishing from cayucos, the local variety of dugout canoe.  We got back to the marina about noon.

Bill had been to the boat while I was gone and he and Scott had determined that our starting battery had been fried by our faulty starter and the starter was still, indeed, useless.  Bill checked around for battery deals, but couldn’t come up with anything in the way of 8Ds.  Scott spent the day reading in his cabin.  I spent the afternoon finishing the last hatch screen and then went for a quick swim when I just couldn’t stand the heat or Scott’s silence, anymore.

Hotel Beach
I couldn’t sleep on Tuesday morning, so got up, took a shower, and spent the morning using the wi-fi in the bar.  The wait staff has given up trying to sell me coffee and breakfast.  I sat up there until my back started to bother me and I got hungry.  Then I headed down to the boat to make breakfast.  Venus came by the boat, later, with her friend, Lucio, who was the captain of one of the power boats on the dock.  Lucio knew where to get batteries at a discount and had a truck to take us there.  I thought Scott would welcome this information, but he just ignored me when I told him.  He spent all day in his cabin, reading, and never mentioned our mechanical problems or what we might be doing in the future.  I was going crazy because people kept asking me what we were doing and it was very embarrassing to have to say that I didn’t know.

Ramona and Jan came by in the afternoon and I jumped at the opportunity to go out to the beach with them for a walk and a drink.  It was good to get out of the stuffy boat and even better to get away from Scott’s mood.  The best thing I could do when he got in a mood like that was to make my own plans and get on with life.  If I hung around the boat, waiting for him to act, I just ended up feeling like Cinderella, missing out on the ball.

Swarm of Bees on Porto Venere
Ramona, Jan, Patrick, Venus and I had agreed to meet at 6:45 am on Wednesday to go to El Tunco.  Patrick, Venus and I were ready, but we didn’t see Ramona and Jan.  Knowing that they had had trouble with their outboard the night before, I tried to call them on the radio to see if they needed a ride.  When we couldn’t reach them (their batteries were too low to use the radio), Venus hopped in her dinghy and went to get them.  She met them being towed by another boat and took their line to bring them over to the marina.  While Venus was fetching the Millers, Patrick and I watched the swarm of bees that had infested the power boat next to Venus’ boat.  We had seen them arrive the day before and quickly put up all our screens to keep them out of our boat.  It looked for a time at if they were going to occupy an unattended sailboat, but they swarmed around the reel on one of the fishing boats instead.  Patrick suggested that they smoke them out and we later heard that they had done so with apparent success.

Scenery on the Road to La Libertad
Once we were all assembled, we quickly found a bus going to Arco.  Every time we took that bus the fare was different.  That morning, it was 85 cents.  At Arco, we changed to a small bus going to Comalapa, which cost us a quarter each.  From Comalapa, we took a #187 to La Libertad for another 60 cents.  The coastline was very scenic.  We stopped at the Super Selecto grocery store in La Libertad to use the bathroom and then spent another quarter to hop on a #80 to El Tunco.  The whole trip took us about three hours.

Main Street of El Tunco
Surf Shop in El Tunco
El Tunco was a funky little surfing beach with a lot of backpacker/surfer hotels, surf shops, and restaurants.  You could rent a surfboard for the whole day for $10.  We had originally planned to eat at one of the restaurants on the beach, but they were no longer serving breakfast and the lunch menu was expensive.  We turned around and went back into town where we got a very nice and reasonable ($2.50 for eggs, beans, rice, cheese and rolls) breakfast at a second floor restaurant.  Once fortified, Ramona, Jan and I went for a walk on the beach while Venus and Patrick (who didn’t like to walk) sat in a café and drank coffee.  El Tunco gets its name from a rock outcropping just offshore that (supposedly) looks like the snout of a pig.  I thought that it must have eroded some since it was named because I couldn’t see the resemblance at all.  The beach wasn’t very pretty, but the waves were nice.  What sand there was appeared very dark from the volcanic rocks in the area and much of the beach was composed of round stones such as are usually found in riverbeds.  When the waves receded, you could hear the stones rolling back into the surf, which was kind of cool.  Two rivers meet the sea in El Tunco.  One parallels the town and we walked down the beach as far as the second one.  There were pleasant, hippy sort of hotels all along the beachfront.  One of them had hammocks strung under a shady structure that looked quite pleasant.
El Tunco's Namesake Rock

Hammocks on the Beach at El Tunco
Riverside Businesses in El Tunco
After our walk, we rejoined Venus and Patrick at the café and then trekked back up to the road to catch a bus back to La Libertad.  One of our missions for the day was to go to the used clothing store in La Libertad.  I suspect that a large portion of clothes donated to Goodwill ends up in places like the one we visited.  It was a huge building and everything inside was very organized.  They gave you a numbered basket and, when you were finished shopping, someone would review your items and write up a ticket with your basket number on it.  They took your basket while you took your ticket to the cashier.  Once you had paid and received your receipt, you went to another counter to retrieve your purchases, which they tied up in a bag so you couldn’t possible slip anything else inside on the way to the door.  I bought a Pierre Cardin Hawaiian shirt for Scott and four bathing suit tops for myself for $9.50.  Ramona got some sheets and Venus bought an entire wardrobe for about $80.

After the clothing store, we hit the Super Selecto to buy groceries.  It was the nicest grocery store I had seen in El Salvador.  They even had fairly nice produce, although I couldn’t find any bananas.  I bought a very nice, large head of red leaf lettuce for 52 cents and finally found some carbonated water, which had been unavailable at the other stores we had visited.  I got two bags of groceries for under $10.  By the time we were done shopping, it was 2:30 and we were all hot and tired.  We decided to share a taxi back to the marina.  There were no taxis visible, but a fellow saw us looking for one and offered to drive us home for $40.  That wasn’t bad split five ways, so we agreed.  We were somewhat dismayed when he arrived with his vehicle, however.  Instead of the small sedan we expected, he appeared in a mini truck with a crew cab.  Once we got him to remove his sub-woofer from the front seat, there was just room for all of us to cram into the cab.  We loaded our plunder into the truck bed and set off for Bahia del Sol.  It took an hour and 15 minutes to drive back to the hotel.
Used Clothing Store in La Libertad

Thursday morning, I got up early to run.  Everybody along the road is used to me now.  Even the dogs ignore me.  The bread vendors all wave at me, even though I never buy bread.  It was extra hot and humid.  I ran down the road for five kilometers and then turned around.  I was done in after 6 kilometers, but still had four more to get back to the hotel, so I just kept running.  I literally had to wring out my clothes when I got back.

Janet with Her English Students
Just as I was walking back to the boat from the showers, I ran into Venus.  She invited me to come to the local water park.  My English teacher friend, Janet, was taking her students to the park to celebrate her birthday.  Jan, Ramona, Venus and I went along.  We took ten kids.  The park was very generous.  They let the kids in for free and even sent a van to collect us.  These were kids from the island and they didn’t have a lot.  They live on an island and none of them had bathing suits.  They had a great time at the park and the simple grilled chicken lunch we had was a big treat for them.

Water Slides at Atlantis
The Atlantis Water Park was very nice.  They had several big water slides, a wave pool, a kiddie pool with smaller slides, and a river you could float around.  There were nice paved walkways that were easy on bare feet and plenty of shade structures to keep us out of the sun.  There was only one other family group with older teenagers there.  The staff followed us around and turned on the water wherever we decided to go.  Shortly after we got there, I went down one of the big water slides in a double float with one of the boys.  The float was a little low on air and folded in half when we hit the water.  The boy’s head smacked me hard right in the nose.  There was blood everywhere and it hurt like crazy.  He was mortified.  I assured him that I would live and the staff took me into the snack bar and got me some napkins to clean up my nose.  I sat in there until it stopped bleeding and then went back to our shelter and lay in a hammock for a while.  I was ready to play again when the wave pool started up.

Wave Pool at Atlantis Water Park
Traffic Jam at the Pelican Slide
                                                                                                                                      The park ran the wave pool for an hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon.  Both times, everyone in the park was in the wave pool.   They gave us floats to sit in and we were tossed about on the waves.  They actually got quite high and I was even tossed in the air a couple of times.  We had fun playing bumper cars with the kids and each other.  Rubber doughnuts do not steer like surfboards.  There was one really tall water slide that started out going straight down so far that you actually flew back up the other side and got to come down a second time.  Venus and I had to try it.  It was pretty wild.  They had us lie down on our backs so that our heads wouldn’t collide, which also meant that we couldn’t see where we were going.  By the end of the day, I was exhausted from paddling and climbing up and down stairs.  I wouldn’t have run so far if I had known I was going to the water park later.  We were all subdued in the van on the way home, but the kids were happy.

Bill had stopped by the boat just as I was hurrying off to the water park, so I had left it to them to organize our trip to San Salvador.  When I got back, I discovered that Bill had been unable to find a driver for us.  He suggested that I talk to Martin, the chef, who had filled our propane tanks for us earlier that week.  Martin is a very useful guy to know.  I asked him if he knew someone who would like to take us to San Salvador the next day and he quickly arranged for his friend, Edgardo, to take us.  Then I went back and talked with Bill on the radio to get all the directions to the places we needed to go.

Edgardo picked us up at 7:30 (OK, 7:45 or so) on Friday morning.  Jan and Ramona came with us because Jan had a dentist appointment.  It took us a couple of hours to get to San Salvador.  The traffic wasn’t bad until we got to the city, but then it was awful.  San Salvador is hilly and made up of many different neighborhoods.  The contrasts are striking.  One neighborhood would be made up of corrugated tin shacks and the next would be neat homes in gated communities.  The historic center was a zoo of traffic and small vendors.  Newer parts of town boasted modern shopping malls and American fast food restaurants.  We dropped Jan and Ramona off where they could find a taxi to the dentist and then we headed for Boulevard Venezuela.  Close to the historic center, there was a neighborhood full of auto parts stores.  We had been directed to try Repuestos Monterrey first.  Edgardo knew where it was, but we still had a devil of a time getting there because of all the one way (una via) streets.  Traffic was gridlocked.  We could have walked much faster.  Edgardo eventually deposited us in front of the building.  It was a large warehouse sort of place and they did, indeed, have our starter … almost.  It was a very similar model, but the bell housing had the solenoid on the wrong side.  It would not fit on our engine as it was, but Scott was pretty sure we could use the bell housing from the old starter.  At $260, the price was right.  I did have to pay them in cash.  They told us that we had bought the last one and they were no longer available, although some of the parts could still be obtained.

Doesn't Look Much Like a Parts Store, Does It?

Super Repuestos Was a Zoo
While we were driving through the tangle of one way streets, we had seen a Ford OEM parts store, so we headed there next.  We were really hoping that we could find a second starter to have as a spare.  The store we had seen didn’t have one, but they sent us next door to Canhuati.  They had the same starter we bought at Monterrey, but their price was $565.  That did include the labor to switch the bell housing, but we declined.  Next, we decided to stop at the huge Super Repuestos, since we were there.  They were having a huge 25% off sale and had a DJ blaring music so loudly that we couldn’t hear a word and had to resort to writing notes.  They didn’t have our starter, but we did buy a can of carburetor cleaning fluid.  Next, we went to Colonia San Mateo to seek out an industrial parts supplier that I had found on the internet.  I had the address and had located the street on the map, but it looked all wrong when we got there.  The address was a nice residence.  I rang the doorbell and told the woman who answered the intercom that I was looking for industrial parts and wondered if I was in the right place.  She said we were and let us in.  They didn’t stock parts, but could obtain them.  She promised to call her boss and see what they could find for us.  We left our phone number in case they could come up with what we needed.

Satisfied that we weren’t going to find another starter that day, we set off across the city to go to the Battery Center where Bill had arranged for us to get an 8D battery at a good price.  The Battery Center was close to Redondo (traffic circle) Masferrer.  This was a newer, cleaner part of the city with nice, modern stores and even a BMW dealership.  The Battery Center was expecting us and was happy to sell us an 8D battery for $175, which was a good enough price that I didn’t mind having spent $100 on a driver for the day.  They even took my credit card.  Everywhere we went, we had asked for a 3-way battery switch, without luck.  Finally, we went to the main location of Marinsa and managed to find one there.  While we were there, we ran into two other couples from Bahia del Sol.  It seemed that everyone was in San Salvador that day.
Gridlock in Centro Historico
I wanted to kill some time until Jan and Ramona were ready to come back and I also needed a new hobby since I had finished all my sewing projects.  I wanted to buy a cheap guitar.  Bill had told me to try a store called Electronica 2000, which was located in the historic center, according to Edgardo.  We headed over there and immediately got stuck in the gridlock.  While we were sitting in traffic, Edgardo noticed another music store called Omni on the corner.  We stopped there.  Their prices were so low that I bought a nice Yamaha guitar and a bunch of accessories.  They wouldn’t take my credit card without my passport, but they were very apologetic and gave me a 10% discount when I paid cash.

Chinese Fast Food in San Salvador
By this time, Jan and Ramona were ready to go so we went and picked them up.  We all went out to lunch at China Wok.  It wasn’t very good Chinese Food, but it was something different.  After lunch, we stopped at Despensa Don Juan to do some grocery shopping while we had a van to schlep heavy items like beer and water back to the marina.  When we finished, it was 3:30 and time to start the drive back to Bahia del Sol.  Edgardo dropped us off as close as he could get to the docks, but we had a lot of heavy stuff to carry to the boats.  I was guarding our goods while the others ferried items to the boats when a young man from the hotel picked up the immense 8D battery, balanced it on his shoulder, and carried it off to the boat.  Then he disappeared.  We wanted to give him a tip, so had to get Martin to call him to come back.  He was clear at the beach side of the hotel by the time we tracked him down.  I waited until he came back to give him a few bucks and tell him that he was welcome to take the old battery for the salvage value.  He was glad to do so and even helped Scott heave the new battery up onto the boat.  By the time we put all the groceries away, we were ready to drink cold beers in the pool.

There was lightning and thunder in the evening and it rained during the night.  We woke up in the early morning hours because the electricity had gone off and the fan had quit.  We had closed the hatches to keep the rain out and it was sweltering in the boat.  By morning, there was still no power and we were getting low on battery.  A lightning strike had knocked out the power in a fairly large area.  Not only did we need to live without fans, we had no internet!  The hotel was using a generator to operate important items like the pool filter and the stereo, but there was no power for the margarita machine or the blenders.  It was mid-afternoon before we had power again.

Scott spent Saturday taking the new starter apart and replacing the bell housing with the one from the old starter, since the new one had the solenoid on the opposite side where it would have prevented him from mounting it next to our engine.  When he was done with that, he replaced the melted battery switch and installed a new battery switch to control which batteries were being charged by the generator alternator.  The new battery switches were much smaller than the old one, so he had to mount them on a piece of phenolic (a composite material) and then use that to cover the existing hole where the battery switch had been.  It looked pretty spiffy when he was done.  Because he still hadn’t installed the new starting battery, we didn’t yet know if the engine would start.

At high tide, Venus took us and my 5 hp Mercury outboard across the estuary to a mechanic named Juan on the island.  My outboard had been sitting for a long time and had a clogged carburetor.  It started fine, but would die when we tried to give it gas.  Ramona and Jan and Venus had had the same problem and he had cleaned their outboards, so we were confident he knew what he was doing.  Later in the afternoon, Bill gave me a ride over to the island to get my memory card back from Janet.  It was interesting to see the island in the daylight.  Jean and I walked from their house down to Janet’s and she showed me some of the flora and fauna on the island.  They have little blue land crabs that scuttle around.  The islanders have hunted them almost to extinction, but the properties of the gringos serve as wildlife sanctuaries.  Since the houses are mostly open, the rustling of crabs at night was a problem for the residents.

Cashew Trees
I knew that cashews were grown in El Salvador, because I had bought them from vendors on the bus, but I didn’t realize that the flat topped trees I saw everywhere were the source.  The nut grows inside what looks like the stem of the fruit.  The fruit is also edible, although somewhat astringent.  It is refreshing.  I had often seen piles of the fruits rotting by the side of the road.  Suddenly, I understood that someone had been harvesting the nuts.  According to Bill, the hulls around the seeds contain an oil with an effect similar to poison oak.  I thought I’d leave the harvesting of cashews to the experts.  I could see why they are expensive to buy, even where they were plentiful.

We had invited Venus over for dinner, so I made beef and carrots in green mole (called pipian, according to Venus) with Spanish rice and bacon slaw.  The beef that I bought at the little market down the road turned out to be incredibly tough, so I spent a long time cutting all the gristle out of it and then stewed it for a couple of hours just to make it edible.  The effort was worth it.  Venus didn’t like Salvadoran food much, so she was very happy to discover that I had made Mexican food.  We were amazed that such a slender woman could eat two big plates of rice with mole.  There were no leftovers.

I got up early to run, but only ran about six kilometers because I was still a little sore from my 10K run a few days before.  It was quiet on Sunday morning, except for the bread vendors and the milk man.  The milk man poured milk from his big jug into whatever containers his customers produced, just like something out of Fiddler on the Roof, except that he carried his jugs on a tricycle instead of a wagon.  I wondered if the cows I saw wandering up and down the road were the source of the milk.  I heard thunder while I was running, but it didn’t start raining until just after I got back when the sky really opened up.  The rainy season had come to El Salvador.  It was almost cool while it was raining.  The temperature got below 80 degrees.  Of course, it was before eight in the morning.

I just couldn’t get going on Sunday.  We went back across the estuary to pick up my newly repaired outboard.  Juan had cleaned the carburetor and the internal fuel tank for $20 and it ran fine.  Scott took it for a little spin and was actually able to get his hard bottomed inflatable up on a plane, at least with just him in it.  I did a little hand laundry because the hotel put everything in the dryer and that was pretty hard on spandex and bra hooks.  Passing pangas laughed at my unmentionables waving in the breeze.  Scott finished reworking all the battery switches.  We then had three: one for the main engine, one for the generator (it didn’t work, but we could charge batteries with its alternator), and one for the solar panels.  That allowed us to control what batteries were being charged by which system.  I napped most of the day and finally had to drink a diet coke just to stay awake.  I made dinner and then stayed up late playing the guitar.  I hadn’t brought any music with me, so had to figure out songs one at a time.  Unfortunately, my iPod died just when it would have come in handy.  It seemed that the humidity (or perspiration from running with it) had done in the charging socket.  It had been new when we left.  I would look for someone to fix it.  It was much easier to get things repaired in Central America than it would have been at home.

Cruising changes your outlook on the world.  Things go wrong.  Some plans fall through, but then unexpected adventures materialize.  You learn to slow down and enjoy what comes or you go crazy or go home.  Once you have adapted, it is hard to imagine going home where every minute is planned and schedules are rigid.  The cruisers who have moved ashore, here in El Salvador, were tired of living on a boat, but not ready to go back to the rat race.  Living in a third world country is a lot like living on a boat.  There are challenges and something is always breaking, but those hardships keep you busy and force you to be creative.  It is a social lifestyle because people have to share resources and depend on each other.  I could see living here one day, as long as the bedroom was air conditioned, I had reliable internet, and the blender worked.

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